America;s nuclear wastes pile up – with no solution n sight

Piling up spent nuclear fuel presents future disposal challenge,Fierce Homeland Security September 16, 2012 | By David Perera Even were the Energy Department to resume this year licensing efforts for Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear power waste disposal facility, it would still be 15 years before the site could start accepting spent fuel, says the Government Accountability Office.

By then, about 50,000 metric tons of spent fuel stored roughly equally in wet and dry storage will have accumulated, assuming that no new nuclear power plants open in the interim, according to Nuclear Energy Institute estimates cited by the GAO in an Aug. 15 report  (.pdf) not posted online until Sept. 14…….

Nuclear power plant operators have increasingly turned to dry cask storage to store spent fuel rods as pools for the wet storage of spent fuel rods have become more crowded. Spent fuel rods must stay inside pools of water for at least 5 years in order to cool down sufficiently to be stored in a dry cask, where passive air flow is sufficient to keep the spent fuel from heating to dangerous level.

Delays in a centralized nuclear waste disposal facility mean that reactor operators face uncertainty in selecting the type of metal canister spent fuel rods should be placed in for dry cask storage, auditors say. The Energy Department did publish canister specifications for waste destined for Yucca Mountain, but the canister never went into production.

They also warn that in the decades it will take to open a disposal facility–or even an interim centralized storage facility where spent fuel could be consolidated–spent fuel will pile up onsite at nuclear power plants. Most American reactors will reach the final end of their license by about 2030 and will siphon off the pools by about 2040.

Once those pools are drained, auditors say, it will become difficult to repackage spent fuel in dry cask storage into new canisters should whatever final disposal site that comes online require a certain canister for disposal or should transportation of spent fuel come under a requirement for a specific canister. Some of the canisters used today are meant to act as a storage container and withstand the rigors of transportation, but NRC transportation requirements for heat and radioactivity might mean that operators would have to repackage the spent fuel, or place it in more robust transportation casks–or let it stay for a longer time in place until it further cools.

Canisters might also need to be repackaged due to their degradation. Experts consulted by the GAO say that dry cask storage is likely safe for up to about 100 years. In addition, auditors note that nuclear power plant operators are selecting a variety of dry casks. The variety don’t raise safety issues, they say, but they could complicate their transfer to a centralized facility because different types of casks have diverse handling requirements, such as specific grappling hooks.

For more:
– download  the report, GAO-12-797 (.pdf)

Piling up spent nuclear fuel presents future disposal challenge – FierceHomelandSecurity


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